Friday, January 30, 2004

A farewell to hucksters?

My telephone has been strangely silent the past two days. No messages on my voice mail from three different satellite TV companies in one day telling me they'll "be in my neighborhood." Nobody telling me I've won a cruise. Not even a call telling me I've been selected or pre-qualified for ______________________________ (fill in the blank with the most annoying ripoff you can think of).

It's been two days since regulations went into effect requiring telephone solicitors to identify their phone number and company name on caller IDs. I wasn't sure how much impact this would have on me, since I live in Florida -- the spawning ground of boiler room operations and home of every telephone scam, con and rip off there is, especially the ones targeting the elderly.

These are the most heinous. They make people think they've ordered some piece of junk they didn't order, then tell them they have to pay some big bill for it. (They'll send them statements in the mail, telling them how much they need to pay.)

Having watched my own mother's and some of my parishioners' struggles with confusion and poor memory, I find this to be the worst kind of thievery. These robbers should be tarred and feathered and run out on a rail. To be biblical, God's wrath should come down on them for their heartless, shameless, unrepentant behavior.

Anyway, a little less biblically, I wondered if this new regulation would have any impact here in sunny Florida, where the hucksters do pretty much whatever they want to do. I came home last night and found not even one message. And again tonight. Are they nervous about having to identify themselves? You bet!

Of course, I never talked with any of them, anyway. I just let voice mail pick up any calls that came unidentified. They never used to leave messages (again, scared of identifying themselves), but in the last months I've been targeted with lots of canned recordings.

I sort of feel sorry for the little, local, honest businesses who try to contact their customers. People are so tired of this form of harassment -- to coin a new phrase, telephone stalking -- by these determined hucksters that many people won't talk to any commercial caller.

I think the only ones who make any money out of telemarketing are the crooks who lie to our elderly population, as I described above, or who tap into people's greed, promising them pie in the sky, the same tactics the infomercial people use: "You, too, can be a multi-millionaire just working part-time out of your home" or using their "proven" success formulas for investment, real estate, etc. Their schemes always require something pricy that must be ordered from them. Don't people read the warnings about these pitches?

I wonder if this new regulation will give us a real respite from annoying callers, or if they're just temporarily regrouping and figuring out new strategies?

Either way, I'll enjoy it as long as it lasts!

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